OBAMA IN AFGHANISTAN – TIME OF WAR IS ENDING
02 May 12. President Barack Obama said Wednesday a “time of war” was ending in a moment of US renewal, after slipping into Afghanistan on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.
In a highly political election-year address from outside Kabul, Obama posed as a commander-in-chief who ended two long wars and crushed Al-Qaeda, and tried to conjure up a new dawn for a nation exhausted by conflict and recession.
“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end,” Obama said, recalling a decade-long “dark cloud of war”, as America fell into an Afghan morass after bin Laden plotted the September 11 attacks in 2001.
“Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” said Obama, seeking to use political capital earned by bringing troops home to validate his request for a second White House term.
Obama earlier dropped from the night skies into Kabul in secrecy and signed a deal with President Hamid Karzai, cementing 10 years of US aid for Afghanistan after NATO combat troops leave in 2014.
“Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war, yet for a decade we’ve stood together,” Obama said at the signing ceremony at Karzai’s presidential palace.
“We look forward to a future of peace. We’re agreeing to be long-term partners,” said the president, who later headed home aboard Air Force One after just six hours on the ground.
About two hours after his departure, Afghan police said a suicide car bomb detonated in an area of Kabul close to several foreign military bases, prompting the US embassy to warn staff to take cover and go into lockdown.
The explosion was a reminder of the extremist threat that stalks Afghanistan still, with the Taliban resurgent a decade after they were driven from power for refusing to hand over bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.
Karzai said the US pact “is not only not threatening any third country, including the neighbouring countries, but we are hoping that this leads to stability, prosperity and development in the region”.
Neighbouring Pakistan has a key role to play in Afghanistan’s future, but its relationship with both Kabul and Washington remains mired in mistrust a year after bin Laden was found and killed by US commandos on its soil.
The US-Afghan pact, agreed last month, sees the possibility of American forces staying behind to train Afghan forces and pursue the remnants of Al-Qaeda for 10 years after 2014.
It does not commit Washington to specific troop or funding levels for
Afghanistan, though is meant to signal to US foes that despite ending the longest war in US history, Washington intends to ensure Afghanistan does not revert to a haven for terror groups like Al-Qaeda.
But after a war that has cost the lives of nearly 3,000 US and allied troops, maimed tens of thousands more, saw thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, Afghanistan’s future is deeply uncertain.
Obama trod a delicate political line, reassuring Americans the war was ending but steeling them for possible sacrifices to come — all while trying to pivot politically back to the need to rebuild at home.
Furious Republicans have accused him of exploiting the heroism of Navy SEAL special forces who conducted the raid to kill bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2 last year.
But the president, who faces a tough re-election fight, did not shirk from presenting himself as the man to shepherd his country out of “a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home”.
“It is time to renew America,” Obama said at Bagram air base, against a backdrop of military vehicles in their sandy desert liveries.
“A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.”
Though he sought to p